When I first started out building websites, a while back, all that was needed in terms of SEO was a website full of content and a keywords meta tag so that search engines knew what the page was about. Further down the line they became good enough to be able to collect the information off the page and keywords were no more. This is what I dub ‘the collection phase’ as it was just an indexing of the whole internet.
We’re past that phase now and there are a few areas that are going to explode rapidly in the next few years which will greatly affect how we build websites. I’d rather make sure we’re ahead of the curve rather than playing catch up when the changes do happen.
To understand why search engines do what they do we really need to look at the bigger picture.
What is the goal of a website?
Helping visitors complete their goal is the primary aim of any website, even if the business behind it has the aim of making money through commission, sales or adverts. If a website fails at rule #1 it will never get enough eyeball time and interaction and will at some point fail.
By serving visitor’s #1 aim we give them a reason to come back again and again, bringing with them their eyeballs and interactions, which is really what we are after since they pay the bills.
If any of the above fail at aim #1, or secondary aims start to take precedence then they will be replaced by another website which does it better.
How does this concern search engines?
Google, Yahoo, Bing are no different. They want eyeballs and interactions too, and as a result of this, they are investing a lot of time and energy into making their search results better. The problem for them is that their results are only as good as the sources they index — our websites. As such they have, for their own gain, taken up the mantle of forcing improvements onto the web.
Because most websites get their traffic directly from search engines it hands the power right to them to dictate how we build our websites. They dictate these policies, such as mobile friendly, so that they can have the best results for their visitors, so that the visitors come back to them next time.
The search engine drive for more eyeballs is forcing quality assurance upon us, and it’s raising the bar for what is expected as a minimum requirement for web pages.
Even though their motive are primarily driven by money it does mean that we are being pushed into getting better websites, and that’s a good thing. We might not really realise that we want better websites when we’re doing any of it, but we do. We want to be find what we want, when we want with as little messing about as possible, whether it’s entertainment, social interaction, knowledge or product. Websites are our tool for getting all of this.
What’s wrong with being pushed?
Search engines can make or break websites when an algorithm changes. The changes aren’t arbitrary. They are made to improve results for their visitors, so search engines focus is on highlighting the best content and the best serving of that content. Google’s most recent algorithm change towards mobile friendly sites is a hint that the bar is yet again being raised. The change before that was page speed. What next? Accessibility, understanding, more performance or responsive? It could be any, or all of them.
There’s nothing wrong with a gentle push, as has been happening, but it’s in the next few years when the bigger push will happen. In some respects we’re lucky that search engines have mainly been concerned with indexing content and fighting spammy techniques because it’s given us a more gentle push, but it’s also allowed crap websites to survive on the internet.
It’s not all bad — There are already lots of front-end developers who are at the front of the charge for a better web, but there are also vastly more that are not implementing the necessary improvements, either through lack of knowledge or because business needs dictate that there isn’t time or resource to do so.
As the rate of requirements increases and the curve steepens it’s going to become a necessary part of
That time will be coming to an end shortly and the curve will be getting steeper so it’s time to get on board now and make as much headway as possible before the push catches up.
How can I beat the curve?
In only a few years search engines have gone from dumb indexing machines though to engines that try to anticipate what people want so they can prioritise that. Search engines are rapidly closing in on what a human wants and needs in a website.
We’re humans and we can beat them to it. We need to be thinking of our visitors and what they really need a website to be?
- Understandable — Getting the right content to the visitor.
- Accessible — Making sure the visitor can use the content easily.
- High performance — Getting the content to visitors quickly.
- Context aware — Making sure the content is right for the moment (device/ time/ location aware etc).
While this sounds like a lot to ask for, it’s really not. By actually thinking about what people really need and want we can beat the search engines to it and as a result we will reap the rewards, and in the process we will build a better web for all.
Let’s not wait until we are forced by an algorithm...